Chris Mayfield held court, Denzel Marshall hemmed and hawed, DaKeavis Wilmore caught his breath and Ashley Barber choked up.
All four of the Chester High School senior student-athletes who signed papers Friday morning to continue their sports careers at the college level took a turn at the podium that school administrators set up for every such event. The delivery styles and levels of comfort differed greatly as the four spoke in front of their friends, about four classes-worth of kids spread about the gym’s bleachers.
Barber was the most emotional, the first that Chester athletics director Ricky Campbell has seen cry at the podium. Barber, who signed with Columbia College to play softball, tore her ACL in the summer of 2012 and wasn’t sure she’d ever see a day like Friday.
“I’ve had to work through that experience my dreams and my family, my mom, my dad and my sister, have always supported me through that,” said Barber. “They were the ones that led me to believe everything was going to be okay; because of them I didn’t give up on my dreams.”
Barber led off the group. Then Mayfield, who will play football at Methodist, stepped up and told some jokes while looking natural with a microphone. Marshall, an offensive lineman headed to Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech, spoke in a low voice and quickly, as most of the student-athletes do. And Marshall’s offensive linemate, Nassau Community College-bound Wilmore, showed up late and had to hustle to the podium for his turn. He waited a second to catch his breath as some in the gathered crowd giggled.
Regardless of the style of public speaking, each athlete was afforded an individual moment.
“I think it just sets them off to the side and we can spotlight who’s going to college,” said Campbell. “That’s one reason we do it instead of at the table.”
Like many of the student-athletes who stand behind the podium, in front of their peers, Barber was nervous as she began listing her thank-yous. She tapped the toe of her high heel into the hardwood of the basketball gym floor. Then, when thanking her parents, she glanced at her dad.
“Looking back and seeing my dad cry is what did it,” said Barber, who wants to be a P.E. teacher and a coach. “We’re like best friends.”
Barber also thanked Columbia College softball coach James Morrison for extending to her a chance to play in college.
“I just needed somebody to show I could do it,” she said afterward.
No tears this time, though just barely.
“That’s a good thing,” said Campbell. “It’s an emotional time for all of them; some of them just realize it more than others.”